Saturday, October 25, 2008

Over the web

One of the things that Eric and I have talked about for some time is playing games over Vassal. However, the limiting factor to this undertaking is that I've never used Vassal. I played around with it a little, but could never quite figure out what to do with it. So, our efforts this week were directed towards Eric teaching me Vassal, which, in the end, didn't take much time at all, as once you have someone to show you what to do, it really isn't that hard to figure out at all. We futzed around with Afrika II a little, as he showed me how to get modules, load them up, and get going with the various options. all pretty simple really.

With lots of time left in the evening, we decided to have another go at Iwo Jima. Over Vassal. This was a brand new module, only released that day, so it was great timing. It took a little bit to figure out what all the options did, so we got connected and familiarized and took off again, once more with Eric as the Japanese.

We started off with cloudy weather, so one US air unit is marked as Fired. Once again I pounded the beaches with my air and naval strength to great effect, but, once again there was nothing there. I moved ashore and tried to press inland a little, but received a bloody nose for my efforts. In the Japanese turn Eric barraged both beaches to remove beachhead markers.

Turn 2 sees more cloudy weather, as the Marines endeavor to stabilize their position. The barrages hit Mt. Suribachi and Tachiwa Point, attempting to remove his artillery that can hit the beaches, with moderate success. I attempt to move onto Tamana Hill, but again the reaction fire is very accurate. In Eric's turn his artillery have found the range onto Double Root beach as he score 5 hits in 5 dice, causing lots of casualties. However, his barrage onto Old Man beach whiffs, leaving the beachhead marker.

Turn 3, and more cloudy weather. A big air strike on Mt. Suribachi scores well and removes the artillery unit there, as well as hits on the other 2 units. The other strike on Motoyama Airfield also does well, but the caves take the brunt. I flood the beach with reinforcements, taking advantage of the beachhead marker. I try to move into Funami Dai, but the reaction fire is pretty devastating and I lose an armor unit. I also move into Motoyama Airfield, and don't suffer too greatly from the reaction fire. In the assaults, I score 1 net hit on Funami Dai, which forces one unit to retreat to Chidori Airfield, don't cause any damage on Motoyama Airfield. Other than successfully barraging both beaches for more losses, Eric doesn't do anything.

Turn 4, and some clear skies! The barrage on Motoyama Airfield causes 1 net hit, but the one on Funami Dai doesn't even cause enough damage to remove a cave (2 hits on 14 dice). The assault on Funami Dai goes well, and I take control. Eric successfully barrages all the beachheads and Funami Dai, the rotter, and then follows up by occupying Double Root Beach, the double rotter.

Turn 5, and back to cloudy weather. I barrage his units on Double Root Beach and Western Village into the eliminated box, while on the mega barrage on Ohsaka Hill I score 8 hits on 20 dice, removing another pesky artillery unit. I manage to get a unit onto Mt. Suribachi as his reaction fire misses, and also move onto Western Village to assault the mortar there, but miss totally. Eric's attacks on Mt. Suribachi kicks me out, but the one on Motoyama Airfield fails, and I score my first points of the game.

Turn 6, more cloudy weather. The mega barrage on Mt. Suribachi score 4 hits on 18 dice, so not much there. I save my big roll for Northern Airfield, scoring 4 hits on 6 dice, which are eaten up by the caves. I try to move into Tachiwa Point, but again the reaction fire is strong, and I retire out again. My assault on Western Coast scores 2 hits, and forces the mortar unit back another space. The Japanese barrages on Motoyama Airfield and Funami Dai again score hits, so no VPs for me. Eric has 31 at this point.

Turn 7, yet more cloudy weather, that's 6 out of 7 turns, when it's a 50/50 roll for clear weather. I hit Mt. Suribachi again with 20 points, and finally clear out his units. The barrage in Chindori Airfield misses, but I finally remove the mortar unit in Warbler Village. I'm now using '0' strength units to claim areas, because that's about all I have left. I also move units into Tachiwa Point and Chidori Airfield, and don't suffer too badly in the reaction fire, but my assaults don't do much. Eric barrages Motoyama Airfield. I roll 3 VPs for Mt. Suribachi, so I've now got 5 to Eric's 32.

At this point we have to stop, as Eric's battery is about to run out, but the game is effectively over anyway. Even scoring 10 points a turn I can't hit 40 by game end, and Eric is going to score big time for areas controlled at game end, for a convincing win.

Having such crappy weather certainly didn't help any, with 6 out of 7 rolls being cloudy (2-3, lose use of 1 air unit). I had 4 good barrage rolls, scoring 8 hits from 20 or so dice, but 3 of those were against areas with no units in them. Eric rolled decently, especially in the early part of the game, causing a lot of unit step losses, and that 5 hits from 5 dice on the second turn was especially brutal, taking out 5 steps. By the end of the game I had very few units left, and most of them were '0' strength.

And, incidentally, I did a quick analysis of the die rolls, and Eric made 107 die rolls, scoring hits on 42, a 39.3% rate, slightly higher than the expected value. I rolled 283, scoring hits on 98, for 34.6%, or just over average. Excluding my two initial barrages against the empty beaches, my figures are 82 from 239, or 32.9%, just below average.

Iwo Jima is a fun little game, a decent filler for an hour or two, and it's certainly a lot harder for the US player when you play by the correct rules, but that may just be due to playing wrong, as I'm tending to agree with the proposal that the US player needs to spend at least a turn or two just blasting things before attempting to land and do anything, otherwise the Japanese artillery just makes mincemeat of his forces. And with no beachheads that means no replacements, just to make it harder. No, a couple turns reducing likely artillery locations and Japanese marine units seems like the best plan. I'm sure it will see more play time to test that theory.

The Vassal session went well, although there were some issues with the module. However, these were limited to the controls for the US markers (beachheads, Safe to Land), which you were supposed to be able to activate by toggling the respective location, but they didn't work. No matter, you could just drag the markers from the control palette, so it wasn't a big issue. I'm not too fond of the log output, as looking back over it some of it is a bit cryptic, and it doesn't make mention of the placement or removal of markers.

Several years ago I played a game by one of the other game tools (Cyberboard I think, but it may have been ADC), and I wasn't too impressed by it. However, that was in the days of 1024*768, and I just couldn't get used to seeing so little of the map at any one time. On my MacBook Pro (1440*900) it was quite usable, although IJ doesn't have a large map, and when I stick it on the old 23" Cinema Display (1940*1200) it should be very usable. I'm planning on playing some more by Vassal, and have a couple of contacts already, even outside my regular band of gaming buddies.


Dug said...

My biggest issue with VASSAL is like yours - I can rarely see the entire board, and when I can the units are so small as to be unreadable. I understand that you can focus in on various areas, and bigger screens help, but the simple fact is that if I'm working on one specific part of a map it is very easy for me to forget that there are other parts of the map that I need to pay attention to.

The other issue for me is that I simply prefer a tactile game where I get to actually touch and move counters.

The things that VASSAL does exceptionally well are a) value modification (as conditions change on the board, the values on counters will change without having to remember rules), and b) hide information. Of course, it also allows you to save state, play remotely, and manage physically obtrusive mechanisms, such as seeding the ship cups in Silent War (a huge chore - one counter in the wrong cup and you get to start over!)

As such, I'm a huge fan of VASSAL, and am happy it's around, but I do prefer ftf if at all possible.

Eric, we should try a Pursuit of Glory game once the VASSAL module comes out. I'd play with Mike, but you're guaranteed to have things like the shelling of the Dardanelles forts either whiff completely or be so successful as to throw the game. ;-)

Eric said...

Doug, you're on. Gives me an excuse to focus on reading the rules.

There's also an ACTS custom module if you want to use it for card and dice handling.